It’s asparagus time!

Spargel!

The German diet isn’t famous for being heavy on vegetables.  There is one vegetable, however, that Germans go nuts over: asparagus, Spargel.  Not just any asparagus, either.  In the US, we prefer thin, green asparagus, but in Germany, you need the fat white kind.  April to June is Spargel time in Germany.  Booths pop up in parking lots to sell asparagus, strawberries and young potatoes.  Restaurants have special asparagus dishes on the menu (sometimes there is even a special asparagus menu).  My personal favorite part of asparagus season, Spargelzeit, is the Spargelessen.  The Spargelessen is the springtime version of the Grünkohlessen from the winter.  It is essentially a reason to come together with people and celebrate seasonal vegetables.  God, I love this country.

I love asparagus.  No, I love, love, LOVE asparagus.  I was once party to an asparagus garden theft, a la Peter Rabbit.  OK, I actually looked on nervously while my friend removed a single stalk of asparagus from a neighbor’s garden.  Yet another failed attempt at bad-assery.  Sigh.  Another friend of mine told me that her sister and brother-in-law own an asparagus and strawberry farm and rendered me speechless with the information.  I had never even considered the fact that you could raise two of my favorite things in one place.  If that farm also had cows that produced Maker’s Mark, my head would explode from sheer, unbridled bliss.

But I digress.

So, I love asparagus, but I also love eating with people I like.  I have been so fortunate this year to have had the chance to eat many asparagus-based meals with some lovely individuals: the couple I rent from, my friend and fellow ETA, Carolyn, the faculty Spargelessen, lunch with friends, and an afternoon of Spargel and films in my apartment.  (Sidenote for German film &/or history enthusiasts: Check out Bang, Boom, Bang and Schtonk!.  Excellent.)  The typical German Spargel meal consists of boiled white asparagus, boiled spring potatoes, ham and hollandaise sauce or butter.  If you are in a restaurant, there is almost always cream of asparagus soup that is so delicious I could cry.  In addition to the delightful meals with friends I have also cooked a Spargel meal for myself.  I had a whole Friday to myself, I love asparagus and I have always wanted to try my hand at making a real sauce hollandaise.  Also, I didn’t have to share.

In Damme, you don’t buy your asparagus at the store or at a booth.  Instead, you go to 3er Spargel.  3er Spargel is a family-owned and operated organic asparagus farm in Damme.  They put up the little, green, arrow-shaped signs all over town to lead you to their  garage, where they sell their wares.  Mrs. Dreyer was kind enough to give Carolyn and me a tour of their operation after we took some photos of the sales area.  I think she thought we were reporters or health inspectors.  Once she found out that we were just your average, German-speaking, American vegetable enthusiasts, she didn’t mind at all.  She took us behind the curtains, showed us where they wash and peel the asparagus.  It was so cool!  Vielen Dank Frau Dreyer!

Also, the answer to the question you’re probably dying to ask about white asparagus is yes.

Links

Normally I don’t photograph my food.  That said, here are some photos of food.  Lecker!

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The Adventures of Heidi and Jiewon: Amsterdam

I had to go to Holland.  There were only a few things I wanted to do there: ride a bike, see the tulip fields, and visit the Van Gogh Museum.  I was ready to go alone, but traveling with a companion always makes things more fun.  I decided to check in on fellow Hokie and snazzy dresser, Jiewon.

Jiewon is working on her Ph.D. in French right now and is spending a year in Paris.  She and I began and finished our M.A.s together at Virginia Tech.  We shared an office for two years, which is the equivalent of having been in battle together: we spent an average of 10 hours/day, 7 days a week for 2 years together.  We ate meals together, cursed the bureaucratic silliness at our college, discussed theory, and drank gallons of coffee.  As the saying goes, we’ve seen some shit.  If I could be straight with anyone about my travels plans, it was Jiewon.  My email was essentially the first lines of this post.  Jiewon had time off when I did and liked my general lack of itinerary, so she was in.  I booked an apartment and a train ticket and it was off to Holland!

The apartment was a little nuts.  The website I booked through was very helpful and professional and everything worked out well on that end.  The apartment layout and owner  were the wacky parts.  The apartment was advertised as being above an art gallery.  This was mostly true, since two bedrooms, a sitting area and a bathroom were upstairs.  Our kitchen, TV and living room area doubled as the gallery office and were located downstairs in the back of the first floor.  Since we didn’t spend any time there during the day, it wasn’t really a problem, but it was a bit awkward.  The craziest part were the cats.  Upon my arrival, the owner showed me around a gave me a key.  Then she pointed to the oldest cat I have ever seen and said, “That’s Käs.  He lives here.  He goes in and out through the kitty door in the back, but he is not allowed in the front of the gallery or in the kitchen.  If you want to, you can feed him when you come in at night.”  (Really?  Can I?? Thanks!)  Note that the ad had made no mention of a cat.  Good thing I’m not allergic to cats and absolutely adore them.

Despite the wacky apartment, or maybe partly because of it, I fell in love Amsterdam.  It’s a magical place with narrow streets, crooked houses, colorful shutters, canals, bridges, boats, flowers, bricks and cobblestones.  The city, like the Dutch themselves, is comfortable, inviting and alive.  I spent each day looking in ever direction, listening, tasting, smelling.  Amsterdam is a full sensory experience.  Jiewon and I spent our time walking around, taking photos, getting lost and alternately searching for coffee and bathrooms.  We had incredible luck with the weather; it only rained a little.  We drank excellent Belgian beers and had not-so-excellent chips and salsa at a bar called Proust.  (Yes, it’s named after the writer.)  We looked at tulip bulbs in the market and took a canal cruise that supposedly showed us 100 Amsterdam highlights. (I lost count, but I’m skeptical.)  Many street level homes don’t even have curtains, so passersby can see right into their neat, narrow rooms.  We tried not to gawk, but the allure of the warm glow of lamps and sleek, modern furniture nestled inside of really old buildings was sometimes too much to resist.

Speaking of voyeurism, I did take a stroll through the famed Red Light District.  Prostitution and, well, everything is legal in Holland.  To sell their wares, the women stand in windows with red lights.  I suppose that to make a purchase, you just go to the door.  I expected the area to be a bit seedier, like Hamburg‘s Reeperbahn times 100, but it wasn’t at all.  There are hoards of tourists there.  Some of them were quite literally on a walking tour with a tour guide.  If you have ever wondered how thirty senior citizens react to legalized sex trade, Amsterdam’s Red Light District can provide visual evidence.  My reaction?  It was awkward in two ways.  First, I can’t imagine what person could have the guts to approach one of these women in front of the crowds of people in the streets.  Everyone would know what you were doing.  Second, once I had made eye contact with one of the women, I could hardly look anymore.  I was, after all, window shopping for humans.

The other wonderful thing to see in Amsterdam are the bicycles.  I realize how strange that sounds, but the sheer number and variation makes the bike culture there an attraction in and of itself.  In addition to regular bicycles, there were some with a bench on the front on which parents can transport up to two children.  Some had metal racks built into the front and back for hauling crates.  We saw old people, young people, people with dogs on leashes, all on bicycles.  We saw a father with one child in a seat behind him and another in a seat in front of him.  We saw two very well-dressed and coiffed businessmen, one riding the bicycle the normal way, while the other sat on the back with his expensive leather briefcase dangling off to one side.  The Dutch know what they’re doing on two wheels.

I had mentioned wanting to see fields of tulips, which required a trip out of Amsterdam to the Keukenhof Gardens.  The gardens were lovely, and I am so glad we went.  There are arranged gardens of all kinds, landscape design ideas, a windmill, ducks, and a pipe organ at the entrance that plays pop music. (Can you guess the song?)  Keukenhof is certainly worth the trip, but the fields outside of the gardens were insane.  Jiewon and I had wanted to ride bikes in the city, but after seeing the speed and expertise required to hack it with the Dutch, we opted for a countryside ride around the flower fields at a leisurely pace.  We made the right decision.  Imagine a mid-western cornfield, but filled with tulips and hyacinths instead of corn.  Imagine country air that smells like a florist shop.  It was one of the most dramatic and vivid things I have ever experienced, and definitely one of those moments when I look around me and realize how fortunate I am to have seen what I have seen.

  • See a video of me coasting past a daffodil field here.
  • See Jiewon’s account of the trip here.

Links

  • AmsterdamStay: apartment rental site.
  • iAmsterdam: discount card available at the tourist office.  Includes public transportation, a free canal cruise, and discounts on museums and restaurants.
  • Keukenhof Gardens: tulip gardens with pop music circus organ
  • Proust: Cozy bar in the Jordaan District.  Marcel Proust graffiti in the bathroom = bonus!
  • Small Talk: a cafe with an excellent view of the street from the second floor.  Order a jenever, the classic liquor of Holland, and watch the many kinds of bicycles and cyclists go by.

Tips

  • If you can, go to the Van Gogh Museum on Friday night.  They have a DJ and a bar set up in the lobby.  Looking at famous works of art, and then having a drink and mingling with an interesting young crowd is a good way to start off your evening.
  • When you ride any form of public transportation in Amsterdam, you have to scan your ticket both when you get on and off of the vehicle.  Hopefully this tip spares you an embarrassing incident. 😉
  • I think everyone speaks English in Amsterdam, but those of you who speak German will have the delight of discovering that you can read Dutch.  Score!
  • Food:  the cheese in Holland may be delicious (hello Gouda and Edam), but bakeries are not on par with those Germany and France.  You have been warned.  French fries are a big deal, and the traditional apple cake is wonderful.
  • Watch where you’re walking.  If you are in a bike lane, you will be run over by an angry cyclist.  It’s your own fault.
  • Jenever: the classic Dutch liquor.  Pronounced “Yeh-NAY-ver.”  Jenever comes either aged (old), or not (young).  I like the old better, but I like whiskey, so there you go.  Have one.

There are a LOT of photos.

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German Products 7: German Windows and Zombie Blinds

We had several exchange students from many countries at my high school during my senior year.  I remember one day when they were all sitting in a group and complaining about things they missed from home.  The discussion turned to things they did not like about America.  While I did not begrudge them their homesickness, I grew more and more uncomfortable with their complaints about the US.  When someone brought up American windows and they all agreed, I thought to myself Come on!  Now you’re not even trying.

That is, of course, because I had never encountered the German window.  They rock.

The windows open like doors: turn the handle on the right 90 degrees, and it swings open on its hinges.  But wait!  There’s more.   If you turn the handle another 90 degrees, the window will tip open towards you and just be cracked at the top.  This is called kippen.  Here’s a video of me kipp-ing a window in my apartment.

But wait!  There’s more!

In addition to the windows themselves, the blinds are amazing.  They are built into the structure of the building, and you can control them either electronically or with a rope and pulley system.  The blinds lock down and block out the light, making them perfect for sleeping late.  That is why my husband dubbed them “zombie blinds.”  It is also fun to have the feeling that I am securing the perimeter when I put them down at night.  Yeah, I’m that important.  Watch the video here.

It really is the little things that make life great.  Three cheers for German window technology!

Just in case you’re wondering, I am not the only weirdo American who uploaded videos of German windows on YouTube.  Try a search on YouTube and see for yourself.

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The Adventures of Heidi and Amanda: Darmstadt, Heidelberg and Frankenstein’s Castle

All good things must come to an end, and my trip with Amanda was no different.  Our last stop was to visit her friend, Charlotte, in Darmstadt.  Many people asked me “Why are you going to Darmstadt?”  It’s a fair question.  Darmstadt is a college town near Frankfurt.  It seems like a good place to live, but it is not exactly a tourist destination.  As usual, that did not stop Amanda and me from having a good time.

Charlotte met us at the train station on Saturday and took us to her apartment.  She then took us on tour of the downtown area.  As a born and bred Darmstädter (person from Darmstadt), Charlotte made an excellent tour guide.  Did you know, for example, that the French destroyed Darmstadt during World War II for no reason other than to practice bombing Dresden?  Neither did I!  (Back then, Dresden and Darmstadt were comparable in size.)  After our tour, we had beer at the Ratskeller.  A Ratskeller is sort of a generic name for a restaurant in the Rathaus (city hall).  They are usually pretty good, and Darmstadt’s Ratskeller didn’t disappoint.  Next was dinner at Charlotte’s favorite place on Earth, Grohe Brauerei Darmstadt.  We split the meat platter and an order of hard-boiled eggs in green sauce (a Frankfurt specialty) between the three of us.  Luckily, the meat platter also came with “Groher Geist,” a schnapps that is drunk for medicinal purposes after gorging oneself silly on various animal products.  It is quite possible that I have never been that full in my life.

Glassy-eyed and glistening with pork grease, we decided it would be a good idea to go for another walk.  We headed up a hill to the park with the Russian Orthodox Church on the Hill.  It is a beautiful building, but since it was dark, my photos didn’t turn out.  Next to the church stands a building called the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower), but everyone calls it the Five Fingers Tower because it resembles a large glove.  Again, darkness = no photo.  Luckily for us, we were ready for another beverage after our long hike up and down the hill to the park.  Charlotte to us to a bar in the student area called Hobbit.  This was obviously a good sign.  At Hobbit, we tried a real Hessen specialty: Äppelwoi.  Äppelwoi (pronounced “eppel voy”) means Apfelwein (apple wine) in the Hessen dialect, and is basically hard cider.  Amanda and I had both heard about Äppelwoi and definitely wanted to try it.  Charlotte did us one better and ordered us each a Lanternchen.  Lanternchen (lit. “little lantern”) starts with a Mass, the giant glass beer mug everyone associates with Oktoberfest.  You take a champagne flute, fill it with cherry wine, and put the whole thing into the mass.  Then, you fill up the whole mass with Äppelwoi and enjoy.  It’s called Lanternchen because the finished product looks like a lantern.  We sipped our Lanternchen, learned that you NEVER use two hands to drink from a mass, and walked home.  It was a good day.

The next day, Charlotte took us to Heidelberg.  Heidelberg is a really cute city on the Nekar River.  It boasts a university, an old castle, a lovely pedestrian zone and an incline.  I had been there once already with my cousin and was happy to return again.  We took the Bergbahn (incline) to the Kaiserstuhl, the highest point in Heidelberg.  The Kaiserstuhl offers an excellent view of the city, the surrounding area, and the paragliders.  After taking in the sights, we rode the incline down to the castle.  We took approximately one million photos and then took the incline back down into town.  Once in town, we went to the Alte Brücke (Old Bridge).  A brass statue of a monkey sits at one end of the Alte Brücke.  It is designed in such a way that your head fits into the statue.  The monkey holds a mirror.   Heidelberg legend holds that a visitor who touches the monkey’s paw will return to the city again, while a person who touches the mirror will become wealthy.  Since I touched the paw in 2004 and did return to Heidelberg, I am convinced that the legend is true.  To err on the side of safety, I touched both the palm and the mirror.  The funky, brass monkey!

We experienced another Heidelberg legend that day, namely the Studentenkuss (Student’s Kiss).  Back in the days when female students could not be around men without chaperones, the chocolaterie Knösel developed this candy so that men could show women their affection without being vulgar.  In lieu of a real kiss, ladies received the chocolaty Studentenkuss.  Amanda, Charlotte and I are nothing if not ladies; hence we had to try the Studentenkuss for ourselves.  It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t buy another one.  It was, however, a nice treat to end the day in Heidelberg.

On the drive back from Heidelberg, we stopped at Schloss Frankenstein.  That’s right- we went to Frankenstein’s castle.  It was pretty much your standard castle: a tower, a chapel, a functioning catapult and knights.  Yes, there was a knights’ camp happening on the castle grounds.  If you have never seen a knights’ camp, just picture the campsite for Civil War reenactments or a mountain men encampment and replace the soldiers &/or mountain men with knights.  While I was taking photos, the knights invited us down to the camp and offered to torture us.  Chivalry is, in fact, dead.

We spent the rest of our time in Darmstadt having coffee with Charlotte’s parents, eating Döner at Lapping (DEEEElicious), playing Looping Louie, watching Two and a Half Men and going for walks.  We visited Rosenhöhe (the city rose garden) and the Waldspirale (The Forest Spiral), which is an apartment building designed by the architect Hundertwasser.

Darmstadt may not be a tourist destination, but we had a great time.  I got to eat southern German cuisine for the first time this year (hello, Käsespätzle) After Darmstadt, Amanda and I parted ways.  I think I speak for both of us when I say we had an excellent trip.  We ate, drank and were merry.  We saw as much as we could and got along swimmingly the whole time.

Ich möche mich bei Charlotte noch mal herzlich dafür bedanken, dass wir bei euch pennen durften.

Thanks for traveling with me, Amanda!

Links

 

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Revision: ZDF Official Song of the 2012 UEFA European Cup

Ich hab’ mich vertan!

In my first EM post, I called the Los Colorados cover of “I Like to Move It” the official song of the 2012 EM.  I made a mistake.  That is only the official song of the EM on the ZDF network.  The actual official song is by Ocean and called “Endless Summer.”  Listen and watch the groovy, Euro-tastic video here.  Michael “Dreamboat” Ballack makes an appearance, too.

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